“God is imaginary”? Really?! Part 27: Think about life after death

Marshall Brain, author, TV host, and blogger, encourages us, in proof 27 from his website “God is imaginary” to “(think) about life after death.” Okay, let’s think about it.

He starts off with a few questions:
But have you ever really thought about your soul? Have you ever thought about how the afterlife would work? Which life forms get an afterlife and which do not?
Yes, because I am a being capable of self-reflection, because I am a creature that bears the image of God, and everything that entails.
Yes, I’ve wondered what it might be like, once I am freed from this flesh, from this dying husk, what life in eternity will be like. What’s interesting is that the Bible describes a life, not much unlike this one, where there is perfect communion between creatures and their Creator.
 
Well, it’s simple, only those beings which God has created to do so.
 
Then he moves from insightful, to down-right ludicrous:
Start with a bacterium. Does it have a soul and does it get an afterlife? A bacterium is a cell membrane filled with a variety of molecules. These molecules react together in different ways to create what we call life. Although all of these molecules are reacting in fascinating, interlocking ways, they are still nothing more than chemicals reacting. The “miracle of life” is no miracle — it is a big chemical reaction. When those reactions stop, the cell is dead.
Well, there’s a complete misunderstanding of what constitutes life: we don’t call a glass of soda sitting on a counter “alive” because of the chemical reactions that causes it to fizz away. Life is indicated by a series of processes: growth, consumption of food, reproduction, expelling of waste, rinse and repeat until it ceases those functions. To reduce it to merely chemical reactions is simply and abuse of logic, throwing the category open to occurrences that no one would conclude is a sign of life.
Then he says this:
The human body is nothing but a set of chemical reactions. The chemical reactions powering a human life are no different from the reactions powering the life of a bacterium, a mosquito, a mouse, a dog or a chimp. When a human being dies, the chemical reactions stop. There is no “soul” mixed in with the chemicals, just like there is no soul in a bacterium, a mosquito, a mouse, a dog or a chimp. Why would there be an afterlife for the chemicals that make up a human body?
Let’s deal with the straw man: Christians don’t believe that there is such a thing as death, at least in the way that Mr. Brain considers it. Death is simply a separation from one state to another, no one ever truly ceases to exist, they just move from one state of existence, the temporal, to another, the eternal. Now, we have to understand what God decreed and how that is worked out. Also, we do not believe that the soul is composed of chemical reactions because it is what constitutes the central driving force of man as God’s image bearer. No Christian, at least a consistent biblically reflective one, would argue that at all. We recognize that this body is temporary, that what keeps it moving, are the variety of chemical reactions that drive it. But even atheist Thomas Nagel, in his book Mind and Cosmos, has conceded that to reduce humanity to mere chemical reaction is simply not supported by the evidence; because, if it were, these words that I am typing into this blog post would have no meaning, they are merely the random arrangements of electrons onto an electrically charged surface to create waves of photon to trigger receptors in the eye. No one thinks like that, at least no one that I’ve met thinks like that, we agree that words have these things called meanings, and those meanings are not physical things because if they were they would have size, shape, weight, and color, all of which are further abstract qualities.
 
Paul the Apostle, in Romans 8:20-22 (ESV), makes this insight:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
Notice that the creation, the world, the environment in which we live has been corrupted because of man’s sin. But because of God’s promise, back in Genesis 3:15 (ESV):
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
 he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
man has a hope that God will do something new, something restorative, something yet to be seen, even though, as believers in Christ, we have already received a down payment on it.
Then there’s this statement:
Knowing this, you can see that everything about religion is imaginary. God, the Bible, Jesus, the resurrection, prayer, the Ten Commandments, the creation story, your soul, everlasting life, heaven… every bit of it is the product of human imagination.
Notice that he is limiting the category of religion to one in particular. He is not trying to disprove any other religion, just Christianity. Why is that? Could it be that there is something about Christianity, the fact that it is anchored in history, the fact that it rises and falls around the fact of the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, and the movement that grew out of the very city in which he was killed, with the claim of his bodily resurrection, something that was never contradicted in the historical evidence. The obvious conclusion, to anyone who has spent any time reflecting upon or studying history, if a claim is never meaningfully contradicted in the literature, there is something to it, something that needs to be considered and not simply dismissed, as Mr. Brain does.
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9 comments

  1. Hi, I’ve been skimming through your blog and so far I agree with nearly everything I’ve read. One thing that stood out to me though was your comment here that “no one ever truly ceases to exist.” I know from one of your other posts that you know that there are varying concepts of souls. I would like to present to you that souls are not immortal, for “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Eze 18:4) Consider back to the Garden of Eden, where the very first lie of the serpent to Eve was “Ye shall not surely die.” (Gen 3:4) Now we know that to the righteous “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” but that “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6:23) If eternal life is a gift, then it is not inherent. Rather, it is sought by the righteous “who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.” (Rom 2:7) I believe that the testimony of the Bible in those and many other places is that the wicked do not also live or exist forever, just in a different place and circumstance, but are ultimately destroyed.

    • Hmmm. Interesting. Just one problem: Luke 16:19-31, probably one of the most overlooked of Jesus’ teachings on life and death, Lazarus and Dives. Also Matthew 22:1-14, in thr parable of the marriage feast. Both of these present conscious, eternal separation in misery, in contrast to conscious eternal enjoyment of God’s presence. Thanks for the positive feedback though.

      • Thank you for taking the time to reply. Eternal separation, yes, but it cannot be conscious “for the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing” (Ecc 9:5)

        Rather than to teach life and death, I believe the purpose of Jesus’s parable about Lazarus was to present to that wealth and heritage could not save someone. This is contrary to the thought that wealth should be viewed as evidence of God’s favor, just as when Jesus said “a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” and “when His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” (Mat 19:23,25) Concerning heritage, when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist he explained to them their need of repentance, saying “think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Mat 3:9)

        The Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection and an afterlife, had mistaken and apparently varied beliefs on the subject. According to Josephus, who was a Pharisee, they believed in reincarnation. Jesus presented to them on their own ground a lesson using figures to explain a point. Based on what I’ve read those figures were all real people. This rich man with five brothers appears to have been the current high priest, Caiaphas, who had five brothers in law according to Josephus, all of whom were high priests after him until the destruction of Jerusalem. None of whom believed even though both Lazarus and Jesus came back from the dead. This parable was told prior to either Caiaphas or Lazarus dying, and when Lazarus was brought back to life Caiaphas was still alive. The rich man, relying on heritage, appealed not to God for salvation but to Abraham. In saying that “if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent” he charged that the evidences he had received had been insufficient and implied that it was unjust that he should be judged as he was. This was the exact charge that the priests and rulers were in reality making against Jesus. They sought for signs and miracles, but even when they saw them they hardened their hearts and did not believe. So that none of them would have excuse, Lazarus was allowed to die and was then brought back, but instead of believing “the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death.” (John 12:10)

        In the wedding parable the King had a Son who was getting married, but only the King is in the parable. The Son hasn’t arrived yet, or in other words in the setting of this parable the second coming has not happened yet. The wedding garments are Christ’s righteousness, which can only be received or removed prior to the second coming. So, what is the outer darkness? Peter exhorts us to “shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (1Pe 2:9) John says “but he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” (1Jo 2:11) If walking in the light is having joyful communion with the Son while keeping all of His commandments, then being cast into outer darkness is a rejection and loss of righteousness. Why does this bring weeping? “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Heb 10:26-27) If these adversaries are devoured, then they can’t also remain. One does not need to eternally exist for the loss to be an eternal one.

      • Mmhmm. Yep. Proof-texting, out of context of course. Don’t feel bad, its a bad habit that a lot of people have because they haven’t been taught any better.

        For instance, quoting only part of the Ecclesiastes passage. Ecclesiastes is the reflections of a man who has lived his life apart from God. In that time of disbelief he comes to conclude that saint and sinner, young and old, death comes to all, so it is best just enjoy the life that one has. You can’t just pluck a verse out of its context and twist it to fit your purpose, for one Jesus never did it.

        I’d have to see some documentation on that “reincarnation” bit, but the point of Luke 16 is that “God knows the heart” (v.15) but what is an important fact in the story, as opposed to a parable, is that both states are eternal and conscious, and not to be confused with the Lazarus from John 11 who, according to church tradition, became a bishop (pastor) in either Cyprus or Crete, dying there.

        Yes, you’ve got the Sunday School focus, but again the point I was getting at it that it contrasts the reward of God’s presence with the despair of separation that is experienced by those who are cast out of God’s presence because they have rejected the offer of God’s grace.

        Sorry, that conclusion doesn’t follow, because the writer of Hebrews is building an argument for remaining in the faith of salvation by grace against a return to the empty, and soon to be done away with, tradition of Judaism, which is why he writes:
        “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (10:28-31)

        God will “consume” or “devour”, metaphorically, his enemies in his vengeance. How will He do this? In the final judgement:
        Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw , great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up who were in it, Death and Hades gave up who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)

        So we are left with a question: who are “the dead” that are being raised and judged to be cast into the lake of fire with Satan and his angels? Clue: it’s not the saints, those in Christ.

      • Hi again. I didn’t respond right away because I was worried I’d word things carelessly and this would spiral into an argument, and then time kind of slipped by. I’ve learned that debate should always be entered cautiously by Christians because it often encourages spirit of strife for all involved, which is not at all what I’d hope for. I am also a Christian who loves Jesus and believes in the resurrection and second coming. 🙂

        The original reason I posted here is because I think that presenting a view of God in which the lost suffer for billions of years, only to then be told that eternity has only just begun, is incorrect and turns people away from God. Because the purpose of your blog seems to be to defend belief in God, I’m sure you’ll come across the questions that I’ve also seen asking why the God who “is love” (1Jo 4:8) and who takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Eze 33:11) would do such a thing. Why keep them around? God once asked “Is there any thing too hard for me?” (Jer 32.27) I sure that this extends to being able to finally extinguish a soul in the lake of fire, bringing a true end to it. This is the “second death” which happens after the resurrection of the wicked. I don’t doubt that no other doctrine preached from the pulpit has turned more people from God than to say that God tortures people for eternity with no end goal in it, and I can’t imagine either God or us enjoying eternity while knowing the entire time that somewhere countless lost people are suffering and will always suffer.

        Although I did only quote part of the verse from Ecclesiastes, it was because I thought that was the most clearly relevant part and by trimming it down it would flow better. I’m sure you know that the original texts weren’t divided into the format of verses that we use now anyways. At the time I actually did wonder if you would take issue with so much being trimmed off, so maybe I should have managed it better. I did not do it with any desire to deceive or to hold my own views above the word of God. I trust that if we look at the remainder of the passage in Ecclesiastes the context does not change the stated fact that the dead themselves know nothing, and actually adds to it. “…neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” This is all because they “know nothing.” They can’t love or hate because they’re dead. Although the author of Ecclesiastes made some poor choices in his life, as we all have, I don’t think that what he wrote should be thought of as his views while disbelieving and therefor either wrong or shouldn’t be taken seriously, which is how I’m understanding your comment. I’m sorry in advance if I’m misunderstanding what you said.

        Because “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” (2Ti 3:16) and although the author was addressing the Hebrews, I think it’s still relevant for this because “all scripture” is to be used, so long as context does not fundamentally change meaning. The verses I quoted apply to any sin willfully made as conscious, informed, and purposeful rejection of God, after having tasted and seen that the LORD is good (Psa 34:8) yet choosing sin anyways, and that is not a result of falling to temptation in a moment of weakness. This was true in both the Old Testament and the New, as seen in the verses you quoted. The man thrown out of the wedding party into outer darkness is in the same darkness and outside the same door as the five foolish virgins who were also unprepared for the wedding in the parable of the ten virgins. That man didn’t have the wedding garments, Christ’s righteousness, relying on his own righteousness instead, and the five virgins didn’t have the oil, the Holy Spirit. In both cases they were, for a time, counted among those who were a part of the wedding, or in other words were Christians, but in both cases they were found lacking and experienced the very sad loss of a place there. That’s why I quoted from Hebrews before. The ones in those parables experience the same fear and anguish that’s described as the end approaches for those who knew God enough to know there really is a God and there really is a judgment and there really is a heaven to be won or lost, and that they have lost it.

        I’ll end by pointing out that in Luke 16:19-31 there’s no mention of “eternal,” or any other length of time, and there’s nothing in the text of either of these parables that indicates they are weeping in darkness for eternity, or that the darkness is the lake of fire, which is the final destination for the lost and I believe where they meet a true end. I believe what I’ve written is true, to the best of my understanding, and I hope this is to the glory of Jesus.

      • Thank you for being so clear and precise in your response, I really appreciate such effort because it prevents confusion, but you’re still confused, and I’ll tell you why.
        1) God is eternal, and those who are brought into his presence endure in it forever (Psalm 23:6), therefore we must conclude that those reject him and his mercy and choose their sin suffer his wrath in perpetuity (Revelation 20:10). Therefore, “billions of years” is a false assumption, given that God is timeless.

        2) God’s love is a qualitative: it is part of his nature, as is his justice. So again, I quote the entirety of the statement from Ezekiel 33:11, “ʻAs surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but prefer that the wicked change his behavior and live.” God gives the wicked the option: change and live or cease from his presence.

        3) You are correct that the word “eternal” does not appear in the passage from Luke, but Jesus drives the point home in Mark 9, where the KJV drives the point home by stating, “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”, three times, modern translations only say it once, which is how we have to view the condition of Dives. But notice that Dives doesn’t ask to come out of hell, he only asks for a drop of water, which means that he likes where he is.

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